Scientists have recently taken a modest step towards the use of animal organs for life-saving transplants by briefly attaching a kidney from a pig to a human body and witnessing it function. Over the decades, scientists have focused on pigs to solve the organ scarcity but there had been a number of roadblocks, including sugar in pig cells, which is incompatible with the human body and causes organ rejection.
For recent research, scientists have used a kidney from a gene-edited pig, that was designed in a way where the sugar in the cell was removed, which would prevent an immune system failure during transplant. As a part of a new test, surgeons connected the pig kidney to a pair of massive blood vessels outside a dead recipient's body and examined it for two days. The scientists witnessed that the kidney had fulfilled its job by filtering waste materials and producing urine, surprisingly, it did not cause rejection.
Quoting Dr. Robert Montgomery, the head of the surgical team at NYU Langone Health, AP reported, "It had absolutely normal function. It didn’t have this immediate rejection that we have worried about."
Further, Dr. Andrew Adams of the University of Minnesota Medical School called it "a significant step". As the family of the deceased person allowed the experiment to be conducted, researchers at NYU preserved the deceased woman's corpse on a ventilator and conducted the surgery, witnessing the positive result later.
The idea of animal-to-human transplantation is also known as xenotransplantation. This procedure dates back to fumbling experiments to utilise animal blood for transfusions in the 17th century. During the 20th century time period, doctors began exploring organ transplants from baboons into people, with the notable success in the case of Baby Fae, a dying child who survived 21 days with the baboon heart.
As scientists have witnessed few permanent results on human transplants, they had started exploring pigs as an option for transplantation by tampering with their DNA. Compared to primates and apes, pigs have several advantages. As they are grown as a food material by humans, utilising them for organs has fewer ethical issues. Pigs develop large litters, have short gestation periods, and organs that are similar to those seen in humans.
Further, pig's heart valves have been effectively utilised in human beings for years. Heparin, which is basically a blood thinner, is made from the intestines of pigs. Burns are treated with pigskin grafts, and Chinese doctors have utilised pig corneas to restore vision.
Meanwhile, several biotech firms are competing to produce transplantable pig organs to help alleviate the human organ scarcity. In the United States, more than 90,000 patients are waiting for a kidney transplant. Nearly, 12 people pass away while waiting each day.